A photo of Giannis Antetokounmpo attempting to block Jason Tatum's layup.

c/o David Butler II

With a brand new NBA season peeking around the corner and a blockbuster trade-filled offseason coming to a close, everyone is wondering what teams and players will be able to rise above the rest and succeed in the most talented basketball league on Earth. Here are four takes from Sports Editors Ethan Lee ’26 and Sam Weitzman-Kurker ’26, as well as Staff Writers Max Forstein ’27 and Teddy Benchley ’26, on the questions that matter for the upcoming season. Stay tuned for part two in our Friday issue, where we will continue to unpack these questions and enrage fanbases with more hot takes.

Who will be the NBA Champion will be?

SW: The Celtics. Brad Stevens had a busy offseason that started off by signing Jaylen Brown to a five-year supermax extension, a move that signaled a firm commitment to winning a title with a core of Brown and Jayson Tatum. Stevens orchestrated two blockbuster trades, dealing fan favorites Grant Williams, Robert Williams, and Marcus Smart for all-stars Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis. Holiday’s reliable playmaking and championship experience, along with Porzingis’ spacing and rim protection, will bolster a formidable closing lineup alongside Tatum, Brown, and Derrick White. This Celtics team possesses every ingredient you expect from a championship roster; a superstar, elite defense, and shot makers. 

TB: If I had to make a pick, it would be the Milwaukee Bucks, but I’ll let one of my co-writers make a case for them while I pitch another contender—the Los Angeles Lakers. After a torrid home stretch of the season last year and a surprising run to the Western Conference Finals, LA quietly had one of the best offseasons in basketball. First, there were the re-signings of emerging star Austin Reaves and solid veteran D’Angelo Russell, two key contributors on last year’s squad. This was followed by the additions of Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes, and Cam Reddish, skilled wings and bigs that will provide some much-needed depth. The Lakers have created one of the best supporting casts in the league around their superstars Lebron James and Anthony Davis—the health of both will be critical, but if they can stay on the floor LA will be scary. 

EL: I don’t know if anyone can stop the Eastern Conference superteams of Milwaukee and Boston, but if it can be done, the Phoenix Suns are the only team up to the challenge. After landing superstar Kevin Durant in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets last year but losing most of their young talent, the Suns went all in this offseason, trading away veteran point guard Chris Paul, guard Jordan Goodwin, and a multitude of second round picks to land All-NBA guard Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards. Beal joins Durant and franchise cornerstone Devin Booker to create the greatest scoring big three in recent history. I’m always hesitant about these top-heavy teams with little to no future assets to fall back on, but the sheer offensive power that the Suns yield will be a force to be reckoned with. If Durant is healthy (BIG IF!), this team will fight their way through the West and be able to topple the mighty East in the NBA Finals.

MF: While it may be recency bias, there is not much on paper that defenses can do to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, and the Milwaukee Bucks. While they lose some defensive skill after trading Jrue Holiday, Antetokounmpo’s presence is enough to intimidate any offense that dares to challenge him. When it comes to their offense, I simply pose a question: How do you stop a pick-and-roll with Lillard and Antetokounmpo? Do you double Lillard and allow Antetokounmpo an easy lane to the basket? Do you pick up on Antetokounmpo and allow Lillard to obliterate your high defender on his way to three points? Or, if neither of those work, how are you going to defend when either of them kick it out to Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, or any of Milwaukee’s other shooting threats? Their offense will tax the minds of some of the greatest defensive schemes in the league, and they will secure the Bucks’ second championship in the last four seasons. 

Who will the NBA MVP be?

SW: In the biggest move of the off-season, the Milwaukee Bucks acquired superstar point guard Lillard to pair alongside Antetokounmpo. He has proven that he can thrive being the primary ball handler, but he is at his best when he is playing off the ball, setting picks and finding the open space. Lillard’s exceptional scoring and playmaking skills will expand the floor for Antetokounmpo, enabling the two-time MVP to attack with reduced defensive pressure. Expect Antetokounmpo to record his best statistical season ever and lead the Bucks to a top-three seed in the East.

TB: While he’s a former two-time MVP and is 35 years old, I think this is the best version of Stephen Curry we’ve ever seen. After a ridiculous first round series last year that saw him drop 50(!) points on the Kings in Game 7, Steph and the Warriors struggled against the Lakers’ size and athleticism in the second round. This was less about Steph’s play, however, and more about the struggles of Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins on the offensive end. With the swap of Poole for the more dependable Chris Paul, along with the improved play of Thompson and Wiggins, I see the Warriors being good enough in the regular season to hover around the 3rd or 4th seed in the Western Conference; this should be good enough for Steph to re-emphasize his greatness and claim his 3rd MVP. 

EL: Tatum is coming off his best individual year after averaging 30 points per game and setting career highs in many other statistical categories. Now on top of his individual progression, he is now backed by the greatest supporting cast he and the Boston Celtics have had to date. The defense will no longer be able to collapse on Tatum due to other significant scoring threats on the floor like sweet-shooting big man Kristaps Porzingis and Tatum’s trusted co-star Brown, which will allow Tatum to maintain his high scoring averages but most likely on better efficiency. Leading one of the greatest teams in recent history, on either side of the ball, Tatum will be able to separate himself from the rest of the pack and take home NBA MVP.

MF: After spending last year’s NBA playoffs at home instead of competing, the Dallas Mavericks will have a stronger drive to make their return to postseason basketball. And that run starts and ends with Luka Doncic. With an entire season ahead for Luka and Kyrie Irving to enhance their chemistry, defenses will have to look out for two incredibly gifted ball handlers, while also denying kickouts to a slew of solid role players, who will be ready to fire when needed. As fans have learned through his incredible playoff performances, Luka Doncic is a once-in-a-generation player who is difficult to stop when he has the motive. With a more developed offensive scheme and revenge on his mind, there will not be much defenses can do to stop him, and Luka will rack up his much-anticipated first MVP.

Who is under the most pressure this season?

SW: You know the famous scene in “Moneyball” where Jonah Hill tells Brad Pitt how great a player he is before telling him his defect? Well, Zion Williamson is an uber-talented young star, averaging 26 points and seven rebounds a game on 60% shooting from the field. His defect: He doesn’t play. Zion has only logged 114 appearances through his four seasons in the NBA, and not a single playoff minute. It’s not uncommon for young players, especially those with explosive playing styles like Zion, to deal with injury setbacks early in their careers (see Joel Embiid). However, as the #1 overall pick, you are expected to elevate your team, and since the best ability is availability, if Zion continues to spend more time in a suit than a jersey, it will lead to uncomfortable discussions within the organization and among fans.

TB: I’m going to go with a new pair of teammates: Antetokounmpo and Lillard. In 2020, Antetokounmpo made some slight insinuations about leaving Milwaukee, and the Bucks immediately traded for Holiday—this resulted in the franchise’s first championship in 50 years. This year, Antetokounmpo again hinted at leaving and the Bucks immediately flipped Holiday for Lillard. Antetokounmpo has continually been put in a position to succeed by his front office, and he needs to continue to pay off their investments. For Lillard, this is undoubtedly his best chance to win—after years toiling in Portland, he finally has the talent around him to get his first ring. This new chapter of Bucks basketball is crucial for both Damian Lillard and Antetokounmpo as their performance in the coming years will certainly impact how they’re discussed in conversations about the greatest players of this era.

EL: After a failed ‘Big Three’ attempt in Brooklyn, forward Durant has another shot as he is teamed up with superstar guards Devin Booker and Bradley Beal on the Phoenix Suns. Durant, who just turned 35, will have to stay out of injury trouble for the Suns to put together a decent season and contend for the Championship, because, looking past the three stars, a severe lack of depth for Phoenix is revealed. That’s not to say Phoenix is a poor team (any squad with three All-NBA caliber players has championship potential), but the burden of proof for this team will lie with Durant, and a bad season or two could cause the Suns to blow it all up and fully rebuild.

MF: Considering how hectic of an off-season it has been, there are about a dozen players who fit this prompt. However, before the trades, all that anyone could talk about was #1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama. Wembanyama, a 7’5” center from France, has generated the most hype entering his rookie season since James in 2003 (or Zion in 2019). He is a towering force who can score at all three levels and block shots with ease. In a basketball world where the last five MVPs have been at least 6’11”, Wembanyama’s game fits right into the ideal big man mold in today’s NBA. However, with all of this hype, there is an immense amount of pressure surrounding the Frenchman. Considering that he was a lock for the #1 overall pick about a year before the draft even took place, there is no shying away from the spotlight now, as he will try to lead the San Antonio Spurs back to success after missing the playoffs for the last four seasons. 

 

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu.

Sam Weitzman-Kurker can be reached at sweitzmankur@wesleyan.edu.

Teddy Benchley can be reached at tbenchley@wesleyan.edu.

Max Forstein can be reached at mforstein@wesleyan.edu.

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